SNOHOMISH — It was an exciting morning for August Leinweber III, who finished demonstrating his hunting know-how by firing a shotgun for the first time.
At 8 years old, the elementary-schooler from Echo Lake was easily the youngest of the 60 students gathered at the misty grounds of the Boy Scouts’ Camp Pigott on Woods Creek Road. Most attending the state Department of Fish &Wildlife hunter-education course on March 14 were men and women in their teens to 30s.
“As soon as he’s out of here, we’ll get his license,” said August’s dad, August Leinweber Jr., who started teaching his son to use a bow at age 3.
Washington requires anyone born after Jan. 1, 1972, to complete a hunter-education course before getting a hunting license. There’s no age cutoff, for the young or the old.
The state is only able to offer that training because of a corps of volunteer instructors who offer their time, and often hundreds of dollars worth of supplies, without compensation. That keeps the cost of courses low; Saturday’s session was offered for just $5.
The fees cover costs such as electricity at the venues that host the sessions, Camp Pigott and others throughout the state.
In fact, state statute specifies that the hunting-safety instructors are unpaid, though they can accept donations.
“A lot of them do it because they want to make sure these young hunters get started right,” said Steven Dazey, a hunter-education coordinator for the state Department of Fish &Wildlife. “They’re training the next generation of safe and ethical hunters.”
Together, 800 certified volunteers throughout the state helped teach 14,281 students last year in the basics of hunting safety — not only firearms use, but wildlife conservation, ethics and survival skills.
Most hunting accidents involve people age 10 to 29.
“They’re the ones we’re most concerned about and who we work hardest to keep safe,” Dazey said.
The students at Camp Pigott had already completed 10 hours of online study, leaving them to demonstrate what they’d learned, during four hours of class and out in the field.
The state also offers the hunter education courses in a separate format where people complete the study portion in person, instead of on a computer.
The first thing they learn is: “Treat every firearm as if it were loaded. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.”
There are also three questions every hunter must ask before taking a shot: Is it safe? Is it legal? And is it ethical?
If the answer to any is negative, then don’t shoot.
“Our goal here is for our students to be safe,” Dazey said. “That’s job No. 1. We also want them to understand the role that hunting plays in Washington state for wildlife management.”
Roughly half of the graduates go on to get a hunting license.
Last year, about 2,230 student were certified in hunter safety classes in Snohomish County, Dazey said. Of those students, 1,458 were residents here.
The 20 volunteers who helped put on the Camp Pigott included some distinguished company.
Rick Webber, 67, of Snohomish, was presented with the WDFW’s 2014 Terry Hoffer Memorial Firearm Safety Award. The award is named after Terry Hoffer, a state wildlife officer killed in the line of duty in 1984 when a hunter accidently discharged a gun inside a vehicle. It recognizes a volunteer hunter-education instructor for outstanding commitment to teaching.
Albert Vincent, 70, of Camano Island, was a finalist for the Hoffer Award. Vincent’s volunteer history includes extensive work teaching disabled hunters.
The shotgun range instructor that day, Cathy Lynch, of Renton, is a past recipient of the National Rifle Association’s Marion P. Hammer Woman of Distinction Award. The award recognized her work with the Boy Scouts of America to promote marksmanship and firearms safety.
Webber is a member of a local Jaycees chapter. He draws inspiration from part of the civic group’s creed, which says, “service to humanity is the best work of life.”
“If I keep one kid safe or one adult safe by doing this,” he said, “then it’s all worth it.”
How to become a volunteer hunting safety volunteer:
Volunteer hunting safety instructors must be 21 or older and pass a background check. To learn more, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/huntered/become_instructor.html or call 425-775-1311 Ext. 106.
All hunters in Washington born after Jan. 1, 1972, are required to show proof of completion of a hunter education course. Older hunters might need a hunter education course to obtain a license in another state. Classes are open to people of all ages.
Much of the registration is performed online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/huntered/classes/basic.php.